US May Leave Troops in NE Syria for Oil, Israel

Esper says troops are with 'partner forces' near oilfields

According to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, some US troops are still in northeastern Syria embedded with Kurdish SDF forces, in sites that are near oilfields. Esper says the US is considering keeping them there, indicating it’s to defend the oil.

This is potentially a difficult look for an enduring US presence in Syria, having ditched the SDF elsewhere in northeast Syria only to leave some troops with them near the oil. It is also problematic with Turkey actively invading the area to expel the SDF.

Esper indicated the need was to keep a largely non-existent ISIS force from trying to reclaim the oil. This too is a difficult talking point, as only the day before officials indicated it was about keeping Syrian forces from controlling Syria’s oil.

President Trump, by contrast, introduced another new excuse for keeping troops in Syria, claiming that Israel and Jordan have both asked him to do so, and even though “I don’t want to leave any troops there,” he seems ready to capitulate to Israel and Jordan on the matter.

There has been no indication from either Israel or Jordan that they had a big problem with the US shift, though Israeli media had been heavily playing up the “betrayal” of the Kurds narrative.

In practice, Trump has always wanted to make his wars about oil, and told reporters again today that troops aren’t necessary “other than to secure the oil.” If nothing else, this removes all doubt that Trump is willing to engage in an open-ended war just for the oil.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.